Second Amendment activists and industry giants are imploring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to use his influence on the Department of Justice to scuttle a proposed firearms regulation that would banish a popular gun accessory known as a "pistol brace."
In a phone call with McConnell’s office on Saturday, approximately 80 gun makers warned that a proposed ruling from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms could cost them nearly $2 billion in sales, according to several sources who participated in the call. National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre is scheduled to discuss the matter with President Donald Trump this week, and industry officials have raised the issue in conversations with senior White House officials.
The ATF’s ruling would classify guns with pistol braces as short-barrel rifles and require the owners to register them with the federal government. Pistol braces are attached to some guns and used to steady the user’s arm. The reclassification could criminalize between 3 and 4 million guns and prevent the industry from selling firearms that make up a sizable percentage of sales over the last decade.
Spokesmen for the NRA, McConnell, the White House, and the ATF did not respond to a request for comment.
The ATF first approved the use of forearm braces on AR-15 pistols in 2012 and has approved several more designs in the following years. The new guidance casts doubt on the legality of any gun equipped with a pistol brace and indicates that the ATF will determine their legality on a "case-by-case basis."
Activists are warning that beyond the business fallout, the ATF’s proposed move could have political ramifications, particularly in Georgia, the home of two hotly contested Senate runoffs next month. Nearly half of all Georgians live in homes with guns, and the Second Amendment is a top issue among voters in the state.
"This could actually cost the Georgia runoff for Republicans," Jamin McCallum, founder of Palmetto State Armory, told the Free Beacon. "Gun owners are demoralized right now." Palmetto State Armory is looking at a potential loss of $150 million in revenue if forced to end production and sales of braced-ARs, and those losses aren't unique to them.
"I would say that most manufacturers are going to lose 20-to-30 percent of their business," McCallum said.
Industry insiders are pushing McConnell to press Attorney General Bill Barr to rescind the ATF guidance before he leaves office on Wednesday. The ATF is a part of the Department of Justice and operates under its purview, giving Barr or his successor a direct say in the agency's decision.
If Barr doesn't act, the activists and industry sources hope to convince either his replacement, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, or the president himself to step in and overturn the ATF decision.
The proposed measure has also sparked blowback, evidenced in the 21,444 public comments that have appeared in the four days since the guidance was published.
McCallum of Palmetto State Armory said his company relied on previous ATF guidance to invest in AR-15 pistols and make them a significant part of the business. "For the last eight years, we have geared our R&D, production, and manufacturing around the guidance given by the ATF. And now they're basically trying to put the genie back in the bottle," he said. "Now they're saying ‘all this what you've done for eight years is bad.'"